Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Vanishing of the Bees, part II

Nearly a year ago, I blogged about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

In sum, billions of bees are dying faster than they can be replaced. Their dead bodies reveal pathogens and disease. While the exact cause is unknown, all fingers point to modern agriculture: we are poisoning bees with our excessive use of toxic agro-chemicals, and severely straining them by transporting and working them year round.

A 2007 National Academy of Sciences report "blamed the decline of pollinators around the world on a combination of habitat loss, pesticides, pollution and diseases spilling out of greenhouses using commercial bumblebees."

Today I had the opportunity to chat with a very reputable scientist in the agricultural world. Turns out, the honey bee situation has not improved in the last year. According to her, at this rate (40% loss in one decade), domestic produce production will die within 10 years...almost.

Turns out, climate change is prompting the migration of the africanized honey bee, also known as the "killer bee." The Center for Invasive Species Research reports:

Immigration of africanized honey bee results in a greater density of highly defensive bee colonies. Africanized honey bee respond to activity near their colonies with increased numbers of stinging bees over much greater distances. This can make them life-threatening, especially to people allergic to stings or with limited capacity to escape (the young, old and handicapped), and to confined livestock or pets. In each country into which they have migrated, they have killed humans and animals. Beekeeping is also disrupted by africanized honey bees, which are more difficult to manage and transport. Maintaining colonies of European bees in areas with africanized honey bees is the best defense, but to do so beekeepers face greater expense, more difficulty finding sites for bees because of public fear, and greater liability concerns.

With regard to using our domestic bees are a defense, my source told me that because of vanishing bee populations, the killer bees will just take over.

Obviously, I prefer highly-aggressive bees to no bees (and thus no domestic produce), but the situation ain't pretty. While the exact cause of honey bee disappearance remains "unproven," the writing is on the wall. Just another price we pay for modern agro business...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

a note on high horses and the vegan delusion

"I know that all revolutions must have ideologies that spur them. That in the heat of conflict those ideologies tend to be smelted into rigid dogmas claiming exclusive possession of the truth, and the keys to paradise, is tragic." --Saul D. Alinsky, Rules for Radicals

Although we often get lumped together, vegans can be very different from one another. Some of us are militant, some low-key, some freegan, some eco-conscious, some animal focused...the list goes on. I dedicate this post to the high horse vegan (HHV).

In short, a HHV is self-righteous, or "smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others." Now, there is a fine line between developing a personal set of ethics, opinions, and disagreements...and being self-righteous. Perhaps it is even an art.

My most recent [virtual] encounter with a HHV took place yesterday. Potentially developing asthma, I am currently on a steroid inhaler to counter my lung inflammation. I've been a vegan for 2.5 years, and in the doctor's office struggling for a deep breath of air, I didn't think to talk ingredients. A couple of hours and a lot of money later, I purchased and used an Advair inhaler--which, after reading the directions, turns out to contain lactose.

Bummed I didn't inquire when chatting with the doc, I get online to google vegan asthma medication. I stumbled upon an online forum where an asthmatic vegan articulated concerns similar to mine. One of the responses came from a stereotypical HHV:

"Even if it does not contain animal products, it was definitely tested on animals. Just wheeze."

Hell to the no. First, animal testing on an approved drug already on the market is a sunk cost. Second, this commentator is living what I call the "vegan delusion." The vegan delusion is the idea that, by being a strict vegan, you do not harm animals. This is wrong. Being a vegan means reducing harm to animals where possible--not reducing all harm (which is impossible).

Why? Because simply existing necessary displaces and inevitably harms animals. Your home, your city, your beloved co-op, your yoga studio are currently situated in former ecosystems. That sustainable local farmer you love so dearly? S/he displaces animal populations by planting fields of veggies. Tractors invariably run over and kill some field animals. The list goes on.

For any human being to exist in a modern setting, some amount of animals will be displaced and/or die. As a vegan, the most you can do is reduce that number where humanly possible and where it is efficient to do so. Take my inhaler for example. Seeing as I mistakenly purchased an animal product, from an environmental/efficiency perspective, I am not going to throw away a perfectly usable inhaler. Under this same rationale, I grandfathered in my old leather products when I stopped purchasing new ones (and I am likewise comfortable with recycled leather).

If there is no lactose-free inhaler alternative, I will continue to purchase inhalers as needed. Again, as being a vegan necessarily means mitigating harm to animals where possible (as opposed to eliminating harm all together), in the matter of breathing, this is one corner I cannot reasonably cut.

Is it speciesism to value my life more than the cow tortured for its lactose? One can make that argument. However, it is not only humans that necessarily occupy space and displace others--it is all living things. Call it natural selection, call it the circle of life--whatever you'd like. I am comfortable existing and occupying space, so long as I eliminate harm where I reasonably can.

If you do avoid anything containing any trace of animal and anything ever tested on animals, that is honestly very wonderful. However, the truth is that the vegan delusion of zero harm is and will always be just that--a delusion.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Hey Cosmo, female shaved heads are not "skanky"

I thought this discussion ended once Britney's extensions blended in with some of her own hair...but I was wrong. I'm sure my readers remember when Allure magazine called bald a "beauty breakdown"--it spurred a heated blog post and a Facebook group in support of bald women. Now Cosmo wants to play.

In its July issue, Cosmo showcases a picture of Mel B--who rocks the half buzz--and impliedly calls a female shaved head "skanky" (as opposed to "sexy").

To be exact, men with "missing shirts" are "sexy," and women with "missing hair" are "skanky."

And Cosmo is just plain uneducated. Hegemonic gender performance is largely heteronormative and varies across cultures and throughout time. To say that two holes for a set of pearl earrings is "good" and one for an eyebrow piercing is "bad" demonstrates how inherently meaningless dominant cultural assessments actually are. Any assigned value would be a classist assessment (that wouldn't even be accurate in 2010 among a large portion of medium- to high-income urbanites).

Hair is a form of self-expression. It need not be so loaded. But in a gender-, race-, and class-stratified world, the shaved and half-shaved female head does carry a message. The message isn't "skanky" and it isn't "sexy"--it's "I do as I please."

It's no mystery that mainstream fashion magazines targeted to women (haven't analyzed those targeted to men) discourage high self-esteem (see overwhelming tips on caloric restriction, ab exercises, and photos of starving women)--but they pretend to champion the opposite. I don't buy the idea that flashing articles on sexual pleasure and career women makes an establishment empowering to women. I believe that loving women means encouraging them to be healthy, not hungry...to be active, not underweight...to recognize that being a woman means different things to different people.

I digress. The bottom line is, if Cosmo wants to pretend to care about independent, empowered women...it should respect the buzzer, not call it skanky.

Tell Cosmo what you think about female shaved heads here.

And speaking of the side shave, check out the actress in this video against commercial whaling.

victory for whales

Thanks to grassroots pressure, the moratorium on whaling is fully in tact. And no thanks to Obama, who supported lifting the ban.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sprinkles rocks the vegan cupcake

I don't know if I mentioned this, but The Colonic is done with year one of law school, taking a breather from a super stellar summer job in food safety, and enjoying the LA heat for some much-need vacay.

What's number one on the vacation list of a sugar-obsessed vegan, fresh out of a culinary nightmare? (okay--a veg nightmare would be somewhere in the south...but DC is no LA, lemmie tellya) DELICIOUS FOOD, that's what.

Enter my first adventure back to Sprinkles since I became a vegan, 2.5 years ago. Since I left Sprinkles for the last time several years ago, I have not found a mind-blowing non-dairy cream cheese frosting alternative...until today.

I'm not talking just any mediocre veg treat. The vegan red velvet cupcake at Sprinkles made my Very Vegan Top 3 Desserts list. I actually just made that up right now, but if I did have a Very Vegan Top 3, it would include (in no particular order):

1. Coconut cake from Sticky Fingers
2. Red velvet cupcake from Sprinkles
3. Banana cupcake with vanilla frosting from Hello Cupcake

ooohhhhh, wait. Make that the Very Vegan Top 4 and add the baklava from the Tarzana Whole Foods.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

oil spill--blessing in disguise?

While coverage of the oil spill makes me cry, the disaster might prove beneficial after all. In its nascent stage, the spill cast energy reform as a "political impossibility," primarily because compromises expanding offshore drilling attracted otherwise-opponents to the measure. Post-spill, those compromises would be pulled, and opposition would increase.

But that assessment was nearly a month ago. Six weeks later and still no solution, the spill has become truly frightening. So frightening that, despite my heated criticism of Obama's stagnant efforts to push an energy bill in the past, looks like we are both singing different tunes. Now the President is actually willing to do something, and now I believe it.

The New York Times reports:
President Obama will call Wednesday for rolling back billions of dollars in tax breaks to oil companies, and will vow to push for climate change legislation “in the coming months,” setting the stage for another potentially divisive battle in Congress. full article


new Whole Foods in Tarzana, CA is the vegan money spot

Now that I am visiting LA, I had the pleasure of experiencing the valley's newest glory: the Tarzana Whole Foods (the older glory being Madeleine Bistro).

Before I rave about how veg-friendly it is, I would like to say that there was no visible compost or recycling bins. I'll have to take a second trip to see if they were there and I was just too excited from the gooey vegan baklava to notice (you best believe if there is no compost, I will host a complain campaign). I was also annoyed that the utensils were plastic instead of biodegradable.

Okay, okay...I digress. Back to vegan nirvana. First of all--do you see this?

Aside from the Vegan Bar, dishes are also appropriately marked "vegan" or "vegetarian" throughout the rest of the bar. While I could not find vegan doughnuts, I did find vegan cherry/apple turnovers, brownies, cookies, and...drum roll...BAKLAVA.

I know vegan goodies have a bad rep, but let me tell you: I had no problem giving up animal flesh, but if the dessert was bad I would never have made 2 1/2 years of being a vegan. As with any type of food, you can get something disgusting or something delicious. That being said, this baklava was OFF THE CHARTS.

The brand is called Nutty Baklava, but I can't find it online (WTF? I was planning on getting that ish shipped to the vegan baklava desert known as Washington, DC). Aside from being dairy-, egg-, and honey-free, this doughy delight features ZERO hydrogenated oils, ZERO preservatives, ZERO refined sugar, ZERO trans fats, and uses 100% unbleached fillo. For two ginormous hunks of heaven, I think a price of $6.99 is reasonable.